By David Hennessy
Northern Irish film-makers Cathy Brady and Stephen Fingleton were both named in Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow shortlist in 2013. The prestigious list has an impressive track record of selecting future stars from both sides of the camera and has tipped Irish actors like Ruth Negga, Martin McCann, Aisling Loftus and Antonia Campbell-Hughes for success as well as successfully spotting the potential of Benedict Cumberbatch, Emily Blunt, Hayley Atwell, Andrea Riseborough, Gemma Arterton, Carey Mulligan and Tom Hiddleston. Now that 2014 has arrived, The Irish World spoke to Cathy and Stephen and asked them to look ahead to a potentially exciting year for both of them.
Double IFTA-winning director Cathy Brady has been a revelation in the industry ever since her first short film Small Change, starring Nora-Jane Noone, got a massive response and was selected for Sundance Film Festival. A gritty portrayal of life for a single mother who uses slot machines to escape her mundane life, it was for Small Change that Cathy picked up her first IFTA in 2011.
Cathy collected her second in 2013 for Morning, a harrowing portrayal of the awkward visit of a newspaper photographer who visits a grieving mother. She asks him to take her to where her little girl was taken and when she does she breaks down. The photographer thinks about taking a photograph of her emotionally display but chooses not to.
Speaking about her awards success, Cathy tells The Irish World: “It’s really surreal. It’s like: ‘What really?’ It just gave me that little prod on the back to keep going. I never thought in a million years, I would win one, never mind two. I think what’s really sweet is the fact that it is where you’re from recognising you and that says a lot, your own community to say ‘you’re doing good, keep going’.”
Cathy was selected to film a short for Channel 4’s Coming UP series. Coming Up gives rising directors the chance to produce something knowing it will have a television audience. Cathy’s Rough Skin examined the adjustment of a young woman freshly released from prison with Vicky McClure in the lead role. This film was nominated for a British Independent Film Award and Cathy is currently developing a feature film for Element Pictures with the same writer, Laura Lomas.
“It was really surreal in a way because at that point I had only made one short. I suppose for me the biggest turning point was really getting into Sundance because that was crazy. For a first short, that kind of opened a lot of doors because at that time, I didn’t really have the confidence to know if I could be a film-maker and then that gave me a sense of reassurance and then that I was able to apply to the National Film and Television School and at the same time, I applied to Coming Up so never in a million years did I think I would get both.
“I had a chance to further my training for two years or start on the professional route. I was fortunate enough that the school were actually willing to give me the time out and I was able to, while I was making my first year film, to make my first episode of TV and that was incredible because the pace at which TV works is incredibly fast and being supported by a very professional crew who turn over really quickly, this raises your game and gives you this massive support and belief in yourself to get it done so Coming Up was a great opportunity.
“The last three four years have been just a whirlwind. From small change, I’ve gone from one thing to the other and the National Film and Television School have been incredible. I wanted to go to that school just to figure out my process in terms of improvisation and script. Each film I’ve made since, I’ve come at it slightly differently whether I’ve gone fully improvised or structured a script and then opened it up onset or the opposite. Wasted was kind of a balance of a lot of things that I’ve gathered.”
Cathy completed her training at Beaconsfield’s National Film and Television School which she recently graduated from. Her most recent film was Wasted, starring Nora-Jane Noone, Andrew Simpson and Barry Keoghan as restless teens looking for excitement in their hometown of Newry.
Cathy’s working relationship with Nora-Jane Noone is ongoing with the writer/director developing a feature film with the Magdalene Sisters actress and Nika McGuigan, the actress daughter of Barry: “It’s going to be developed with two actors in mind so it’s going to be developed in quite an unusual way. It’s kind of how I approached Morning with Eileen Walsh and Johnny Harris. Morning was a fully improvised film so what we did was we grounded it in a lot of research and we had a lot of interviews and then work shopped it and it kind of structured itself in a way.”
Asked how she feels about the leap from short films to feature films, Cathy points out her shorts have all tended to be on the long side: “If you look at my shorts, they’re not necessarily short shorts if you know what I mean. I think my shortest short is 19 minutes so I’ve always been itching to push the form especially with my last short Wasted, that was 33 minutes.
“Shorts for me tend to deal with a series of moments rather than a massive turning event so I’m definitely really keen to get my teeth into a feature but I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to make all the shorts because I think I’ve got a good sense of my voice as a film-maker from having explored shorts which is brilliant.”
Whether they focus on a frustrated single mother, grieving parent, confused ex-convict or frustrated teenagers (as is the case with Kiss and Wasted), Cathy’s films tend to be character studies: “I think I’m really interested in the greys, the inbetweens, a sense of limbo really intrigues me and people who are getting by but pushing themselves to extremes to feel alive in a way. I think there’s probably that thing between all the work in a way in different ways.”
A personal film was Wasted as it took Cathy back to her hometown of Newry and she was struck by the effect of recession on the hopes and dreams of youngsters who can remember no better times. Daring but with nothing positive to channel their energy into, the characters at the film’s centre go off the rails: “Wasted was incredibly close to the bone as a film. For me, it wasn’t a million miles away from potentially what could happen and the interesting thing when I was workshopping Wasted was when, we seen about 100 boys for the roles, and I kind of said to them if you could do anything this summer, what would you do? I was thinking back to my summers (as a teenager) and I would have probably said I would have loved money or I would have loved to travel. What was fascinating was the response they said: ‘If we could do anything this summer, well I think I just want a job’. It’s completely different to when I was growing up and for me, I just felt I had to make Wasted, I had to talk about what’s going on right now. It’s my generation that have had to leave home in order to further themselves but it’s also the generation behind, the one that is coming up, that already feels trapped in a way. The possibilities that we had when we were growing up definitely aren’t the same as they have, even as simple as getting a summer job: That affects your freedom, your financial freedom and aspirations for what you want to do.”